83 Two Unsuspecting Souls Pt.1

    An upbeat and cheerful tune filled the imperial office as Zeren whistled a trot song. Jimin frowned at him from his desk.

    "Are you ready yet, Your Majesty?" he asked as he fixed his robes in front of the full-length mirror. He turned to face Jimin and arched a brow when he spotted him still crouched over his desk. "What are you doing? Aren't we going to the village today?"

    Jimin glanced up at him briefly and then back down at the book he was reading. "No, I am not."

    "What? Why not?"

    "Because I do not want to."

    Zeren folded his arms across his chest. "Your Majesty, we agreed that you at least take a break once a week."

    "Yes, but I feel like these breaks are meant for someone else other than me."


    "Zeren," he said, pushing his book away. "I feel like you are enjoying these excursions much more than I am."

    "Wha-?" Zeren was flabbergasted. "I-I am not!"

    Jimin raised his brow dubiously.

    "Okay. Fine" Zeren surrendered with his hands raised. "So, I do enjoy our weekly visits. But that doesn't mean you can't."

    "It is not that I do not enjoy them" Jimin replied, "but rather I am sceptical about how you enjoy them."

    Zeren looked at Jimin confusedly. "What's wrong with the way I-? Oh!" Zeren's eyes widened with enlightenment. "I see." With a devious smile, he continued, "Don't tell me you're still unhappy about me getting close to Gyuri."

    Jimin's lips thinned. Dismissively, he spoke, "If you really want to go, you can go. I am not going to stop you." With renewed energy, Jimin buried his nose under the book he was reading to disguise his irritation.

    Zeren sighed. "I cannot go if you aren't, Your Majesty."

    Jimin peeked up at him from the rim of his book. With a covert gaze, he observed his gloomy expression hidden by his platonic countenance. Jimin knew that while Zeren was practised at concealing his emotions, the one emotion he couldn't hide very well was disappointment. And seeing his friend shelter his upper lip with his bottom lip-a habit he only exhibited when he was attempting to contain his sadness- hinted that Zeren was indeed very disappointed.

    Jimin let out a long sigh. I cannot win with him. "Fine," he conceded as he propped his book down. "I will go."

    Immediately, Zeren's mood lifted. "Really?"

    "Yes," Jimin replied with a slight smile. "But only for a short while. As you can see, I have so much work to do," he gestured at the pile of books he had on either side of his desk, "so I must really complete them before I meet with the Waekugin ambassador..."

    Zeren's eyes hardened at the mention of the Waekugin. He lowered his voice, "Are you really going to meet with them?"

    "Yes," Jimin affirmed. "I must."

    "But, Your Majesty-"

    "I know what you are going to say, Zeren" Jimin interrupted, "but what is done is done. I have already agreed."

    Zeren looked at him sceptically.

    "It is important that I try to mend the relations between our people and the Waekugin" Jimin explained. "While Saim prospered without their help in the past, the same cannot be said about now." He lowered his eyes while propping his chin on top of his interlocked fingers. With a pensive expression, he resumed, "Trade with the Waekugin is something we must consider. Especially when reports from our vanguards have confirmed that the New World has advanced technology which will prove beneficial to Saim." He gazed up. "Zeren, we must not let Saim fall behind."

    Seeing the sombreness on his face, Zeren answered, "But it's not like we are letting Saim fall behind by not involving ourselves with the Waekugin. Other kingdoms, like Nihon, have resisted Waekugin influence and are thriving without their input."

    "Yes, you are right" Jimin admitted. "But that is what we only see on the surface." He gazed down at his right hand where his jade, imperial ring rested on his forefinger. "While it seems that Nihon is prospering, we cannot know for sure if that is the case. After all, their situation is different from ours: they do not suffer the famine that we do."

    Jimin continued to stare at his imperial ring as he rubbed his thumb across the clear band of jade. On the day of his coronation, the royal eunuch had presented him with the imperial ring-the same one that his father, and the emperors before him, had worn. Seeing the jade ring reminded him of his imperial duty to make decisions that would benefit the kingdom. Yet, why did it suddenly remind him of his father's decision to expand?

    Before his father had died, he had grown increasingly interested in expanding Saim territory, going as far as even invading neighbouring kingdoms on the grounds of self-defence. Even after a few weeks on the throne, Jimin was still ignorant of his true motivation for expansion. He had attacked another kingdom unprovoked.

    But why?

    What could have possessed his father to suddenly act that way?

    "Either way, Your Majesty," Zeren spoke, "I advise you to exercise caution when it comes to dealing with the Waekugin. It is not only the Waekugin that we must be wary of but the hidden enemy too" and with those words, Zeren exchanged knowing looks with Jimin.

    Of course, Jimin internally thought, I must not forget the men at court, who I have left disgruntled with my decision...

    As Jimin opened his mouth to reply, a sudden knock on the door caught his and Zeren's attention.

    "Your Majesty?" A feminine voice was heard from the other side of the door.

    Jimin locked eyes with Zeren briefly before answering, "Come in."

    In a few moments, a young, royal maid entered, carrying a neatly folded imperial uniform. She bowed to Jimin before extending her arms out in offering. "I have brought your imperial uniform, Your Majesty."

    "My uniform?" Jimin echoed. "I did not..." he glanced at Zeren, "Ah, I see."

    Zeren grinned sheepishly as he collected the uniform from the maid. From the sudden brushing of their hands, the maid grew flustered and she lowered her head shyly, occasionally daring to meet Zeren's eyes but then hurriedly averting it again.

    "Thank you" Zeren uttered with a charming smile.

    The royal maid meekly nodded before retreating to leave the imperial office.

    Jimin, who was watching from behind, eyed Zeren's actions intently. He questioned him, "How do you that?"

    "Do what?"

    "That" Jimin replied. "How are you able to speak to women so easily?"

    Zeren shrugged. "I don't know. I just..." he thought for a moment, "I just talk to them. It's not that difficult-" he stopped midway his sentence as he noticed Jimin's dubious expression. "Why are you looking at me like that?"

    "Because that was not just talking" Jimin pointed out. "It looked you were..."

    "What?" Zeren asked curiously. "It looked like I was what?"

    Jimin mumbled, "Wooing her."

    Zeren blinked before bursting into laughter. "You have a sharp eye, Your Majesty." He wiped a tear that had started to form on the corner of his eye. But as he was doing so, a brilliant idea suddenly crossed his mind. "You know what, why don't you try it?"

    "Try what?" Jimin asked. "Talk to them? Zeren, I already-"

    "No, not that." He eyed Jimin mischievously as his lips curled into a coy grin. "Why don't you try wooing?"

    "Wooing?" Jimin repeated, horrified. "Me? Wooing? Zeren, I am not a philanderer."

    "And are you implying I am?"

    Sensing Zeren's unimpressed tone, Jimin quickly interjected, "No, what I am saying is, I simply do not possess this ability, nor do I wish to."

    "Oh, c'mon, Your Majesty. Wooing a woman is what we men do. It hurts no one and you also flatter a lady by showering them with compliments."

    "Empty compliments" Jimin muttered under his breath.

    Zeren frowned.

    "I see no point in it. Leading a lady on is a dishonourable thing to do."

    "Yes, but the thing is, you are not leading a lady on. Wooing for you will be a challenge, a rite of passage per se, that should help you overcome your irrational fear."

    Jimin sighed. "For the last time, I am not afraid of-"

    "Then, prove it" Zeren abruptly challenged. "Prove to me that you are not afraid of women by wooing one."

    "What? That is incredulous! I am not going to-"

    "Don't tell me you're going to back out from a challenge" Zeren taunted.

    Jimin clenched his jaw at Zeren's words.

    Zeren smiled secretly at Jimin's reaction. I knew it. "You've never backed away from a challenge before, Your Majesty, so don't tell me you're going to start now."

    Jimin continued to lour at Zeren. "That is unfair, Zeren. You are using my pride against me."

    "If it's the only way to help you, then I have no other choice" Zeren replied with a shrug. "You've always faced every challenge unflinchingly in the past. You even swam stark naked in the river during winter" he reminded him. "Surely wooing a woman isn't as difficult as that?"

    With his lips pursed, Jimin reluctantly replied. "No, you are right..."

    "Then, are you up for it?"

    Jimin stared at Zeren's unwavering gaze. He recognised the way his eyes sparkled with mischief and how his body was hunched forward in a provoking manner: he was serious.

    Reluctant to surrender, Jimin swallowed. "Fine. I will take you up on this challenge."

    Zeren's smile widened.

    "But in return, I challenge you to do something too."

    "Oh?" Zeren replied flippantly. "Whatever it is, I bet I can do it-"

    "I challenge you to stay five metres away from women at all times."

    "Wha-?" Zeren was astonished. "That's- that's-!"

    "Do not tell me you cannot do this?" Jimin playfully taunted. "Were you not saying how confident you were earlier?"

    Zeren scowled at him. "You're really annoying, Your Majesty."

    Jimin smirked. "So, are we really doing this?" He offered his hand out to Zeren.

    Hesitantly, Zeren pursed his lips before eventually accepting his hand. "Fine. Let's do this."

    The pair eyed each other determinedly as they uttered in unison, "Challenge accepted."
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